This is a long piece so I appreciate the time that you take to read it. It is my first effort at a piece like this. I would appreciate honest feedback from anyone who has the time.
It was a night of surging surf and fire, driving winds that battered and broke against sail and board, screaming death and destruction in their rage and lightening illuminating the the melee of foaming frothing tide.
The pull and draw of cresting waves and lives to save, drew the rib JB out to open sea in search of a mermaid and two babies.
Four crew answered the call, and four would have to do it all.
McMahon only eighteen, not yet ready for the sights this night would entertain. Stevens, old hand, salt in his blood and grit in his aching bones, all sea and no land. Jones was the skipper if a skipper was required on a night of foaming hell and fire, O’Dell at the helm, aunt to those in peril. Pulling hard, pulling into the teeth of hell
The roll and heave of wave on building wave took them up a high. Then down, nose first into a falling deluge and the crash of flat bottom and then up and up to do it all again,
the woopf woopf of the chopper overhead, the flash of light white to red, the downdraft hardly registered on the rubber raft, the fury of the night all that they could comprehend, foam and death end to end.
McMahon clawed at the oar, a boy scared to die but brave still, refusing to cry.
Head full of tears, terrified in face of death, ghostly white but pulling with all his might, this nights work would make or break the boy, Stevens knew, he would live or die, for certain he would learn to cry and come to know that in the face of fury tears don’t show,
O’Dell flew into the teeth of it, two streaming forks of salt running down her drowning face, one from without and one from within and still the bastard race, to save them from the foam and fire her heart was of steel and her arm as strong as any man in her fear,
the battle joined, they must win and bring the mermaid and Megs babies in.
Jones was first to see the lift of stern above the mountain of breaking spume, the first to spot the mermaid thrown first high and then higher, one small head visible above the rail, the boy at least, the girl they would hope for later.
The sail was stripped, through hard blow or the fortune of wind Jones didn’t know, and less he cared, he looked towards Stevens, the old sea man just stared, the look told more than words, the mermaid was stricken, out of depth and out of luck.
The night was drawing blood and splitting hands and it must not be for nought.
The crash of mast, like matchwood shattered and scattered before the storm and the head of the girl popped up then, for a moment O’Dell’s heart leapt with joy, the chance to save girl and boy.
The rib drew nearer to the mermaid. The mast had fallen through the fragile deck, the small boat now just moments from a wreck, drawing her last breath, death on the open sea.
The chopper lit the scene of the maelstrom below, enough to show the desperation and the hopelessness, water fast drowning the brave craft, bow low, up aft, the kids clinging to each other, sister and brother
A minute maybe two was all they had but that would seem a life time in the hell surf and salt.
Stevens pushed them forward, calling for all shoulders, to pull too hell and face the devil in the raging storm or face Meg O’Connor in the morn.
A length was all that was in it when McMahon tossed overboard, the shout of Jones too late to alert the others to the lightening load. but Stevens pointed then at a head rising, rising and striking, fire and foam forgotten
stong arms pulling, arrowing toward the mermaid, Christ the lad was brave, the chance still of a save and children back abed. The boy was swamped but rose again, still strong but strength would ebb, the bitch of sea dragging power from arms and legs.
Then a hand reached wood and pulled aboard, the mermaid near tipping but McMahon then forward, in place to take a line, a chance yet to pull for home with hearts light across the surging brine.
The mermaid was failing fast, when they got the boy and girl at last, alive and scared, shivering from cold and fright blessed to be alive tonight,
The mermaid broke her back before she sank, a splintering of span and plank, a salvo of broken beams, a salute to McMahon as she dragged him down,
Stevens spat and tore and ripped the air with words of hell and damnation as he watched his fifteenth companion drown, pulled down. Dead to the world of man and all its stations, fuck God and all his protestations, and all his heathen nations.
Salt flowed freely and curses lit the bow, pull you bastards, pull too fuck, this nights work is not done yet. He cried, as inside an old tar failed and died, defeated by the will to hope,
Meg O’Connor stood white as pale, lips blue and shoulders shaking. When the rib came into view a cheer went up from those on land, praying that none would be taken child or hand.
then Joe Fynes counted heads and cost, the call went from mouth to mouth, one was lost.
McMahons mother ran to the beaching craft, desperate eyes swung fore and aft, but she knew, she knew for she had seen it all before, she reefed her hair and clawed her face and swore,
She shook her fist at the foam and fire, you bitch you miserable whore. She fell then on the sand, knees bleeding as her heart, mourned the passing of her son, lost tonight another brave seaman.
© Dave Kavanagh 2016
I memory and tribute to the men and women of the coastguard who face death and danger to recover those in peril at sea.